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Storytelling 101

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Storytelling 101 [#permalink] New post 07 Aug 2009, 18:59
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Adcoms don't care for essays that are written like a rap sheet of accomplishments. Instead, judging from Wharton forums and various essay books, they seem to prefer candidates who are good storytellers. Why not? After all, storytelling is essential to a leader's ability to inspire. Inspire the adcom and you're interview material. Let this post be a collection of good resources on inspiring writing.

1. A must-hear podcast on storytelling from Stanford's ITunes U: http://sic.conversationsnetwork.org/sho ... l3170.html
2. Alex Flemming's blog (the guy is inspiring for many reasons, but his posted writing samples are definitely some of the top ones I've red): http://www.alexcfleming.com/index2.html
3. Something on the creative extreme from admitted MBA students: http://www.hbs.edu/mba/profiles/Portrai ... Missy.html
4. Great story of a "pay it forward" campaign started as a result of self-awareness: leadership-story-74329.html
5. Amazing background story: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/23/business/23boss.html
6. Another action with viral and impactful results: http://shine.yahoo.com/channel/health/o ... 0-2375828/

Write on...
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Last edited by MBAgirl2010 on 08 Sep 2010, 22:54, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Storytelling 101 [#permalink] New post 07 Aug 2009, 20:03
I really like Alex Chu's short article "What is Good Writing?" (available on his blog and stickied on his thread here). I think his advice to avoid being too over stylized without the writing ability to back it up is very appropriate for most people. I personally feel that personal and sincere stories will have impact despite some rawness in style if they are basically sound in grammar and vocab. It seems that the situational essays (describe a mistake, success etc.) are set up for this. Currently, I'm working slowly through the "Why MBA and Why Now" essays and trying not to sound too biographical.
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Re: Storytelling 101 [#permalink] New post 07 Aug 2009, 20:37
MBAgirl2010 wrote:
Adcoms don't care for essays that are written like a rap sheet of accomplishments. Instead, judging from Wharton forums and various essay books, they seem to prefer candidates who are good storytellers.


I would argue that they like good stories, not good storytellers. Although the distinction is hard to make when you're just reading essays.

If you have a great story but you can't put it into words, you'll have a hard time getting accepted anywhere.

If you have an average story, but are good at putting it into words, then you'll do quite well.

The story is the most important, but without the skill of telling it, the adcom will never hear it.

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Re: Storytelling 101 [#permalink] New post 08 Aug 2009, 04:39
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i think certain essays lend themselves to "creative" writing better than others. 500 words is not a lot and I don't find I have an extra sentence to help set up a scene in most cases. I think the essays that ask about something fun about you, you probably have a little more time to enjoy the scenery so to speak.
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Re: Storytelling 101 [#permalink] New post 09 Aug 2009, 10:19
MBAgirl2010 wrote:
Adcoms don't care for essays that are written like a rap sheet of accomplishments. Instead, judging from Wharton forums and various essay books, they seem to prefer candidates who are good storytellers. Why not? After all, storytelling is essential to a leader's ability to inspire. Inspire the adcom and you're interview material. Let this post be a collection of good resources on inspiring writing.

1. A must-hear podcast on storytelling from Stanford's ITunes U: http://sic.conversationsnetwork.org/sho ... l3170.html
2. Alex Flemming's blog (the guy is inspiring for many reasons, but his posted writing samples are definitely some of the top ones I've red): http://www.alexcfleming.com/index2.html
3. Something on the creative extreme from admitted MBA students: http://www.hbs.edu/mba/profiles/Portrai ... Missy.html

Write on...


Awesome links! I never knew they exist...thanks for posting them
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Re: Storytelling 101 [#permalink] New post 09 Aug 2009, 20:17
Aside from the essays, what do you all think about good storytelling in terms of a successful interview?
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Re: Storytelling 101 [#permalink] New post 09 Aug 2009, 21:11
gregarious wrote:
Aside from the essays, what do you all think about good storytelling in terms of a successful interview?


The worst thing you can do during the an interview is to not answer the question that is being asked directly. Storytelling skills would be good if the interviewer asks you a general question and lets you talk longer, but you have to test the waters first. Its not uncommon for interviewers to interrupt you so I'd say fit whatever suits their patience.
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Re: Storytelling 101 [#permalink] New post 17 Nov 2009, 17:28
I am adding more examples of storytelling styles useful for essays found throughout the forum and the web to the head of this topic. The latest:

4. Great story of leadership: leadership-story-74329.html (thanks garbus222 )
5. Amazing background story: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/23/business/23boss.html
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Re: Storytelling 101 [#permalink] New post 17 Nov 2009, 17:31
Thank you for sharing. A lot of these stories are indeed quite good :-D
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Re: Storytelling 101 [#permalink] New post 17 Nov 2009, 18:54
interesting links thanks
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Re: Storytelling 101 [#permalink] New post 11 Dec 2009, 20:41
MBAgirl2010 wrote:
I am adding more examples of storytelling styles useful for essays found throughout the forum and the web to the head of this topic. The latest:

4. Great story of leadership: leadership-story-74329.html (thanks garbus222 )
5. Amazing background story: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/23/business/23boss.html


Do you or anyone else have any more good stories?
I am working on my personal statement this weekend and I need some more help.
If I find anything, I will add it to the thread.
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Re: Storytelling 101 [#permalink] New post 15 Mar 2010, 19:17
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Re: Storytelling 101 [#permalink] New post 07 Jul 2010, 07:07
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no disrespect to anyone but that guy is a great leader for buying a person coffee at starbucks?

what about Soldiers fighting everyday and their officers and sergeants who make life and death decisions on a daily basis. i guess the military version of leadership is on a different scale...i was suprised by the content of that article and the reaction.

i was expecting it to be a guy who did something amazing.
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Re: Storytelling 101 [#permalink] New post 08 Jul 2010, 05:04
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wp06 wrote:
no disrespect to anyone but that guy is a great leader for buying a person coffee at starbucks?

what about Soldiers fighting everyday and their officers and sergeants who make life and death decisions on a daily basis. i guess the military version of leadership is on a different scale...i was suprised by the content of that article and the reaction.

i was expecting it to be a guy who did something amazing.


Hey, if you allow me to pitch in a few thoughts, I will...

The tone in the guy's story is slightly self-congratulatory, and absolutely, as you say, risking your life for your ideals and making quick decisions in a war zone is on an entirely different scale than this slightly-too-cute gratuitously "ethnicized" form of pay-it-forward.

But you know what? That's precisely the point.

This guy's actions had a ripple effect that made a whole lot of people end their day with a much happier note. And he did it without the might of the government's funding, the Pentagon's resources, or mountains of research and technology behind him, and even more importantly, he did it without thinking he wanted to be a leader. The best leaders just are, whether they want to be or not.

Leadership is often about what you can do in unfavorable circumstances, with inadequate information, and without external directives.

In business, you're often going to find that your division will almost never be given as much budget, time, resources, and flexibility as you would like. Someone above you doesn't care enough to tell you what they think you should do, hasn't given you enough money or time to do it, and the guys beneath you and horizontal to you are worried about their own mortgages, their daughter's dental bills, and their weight-gain. Can you turn-around angry, surly workers who are upset about their salaries into highly-motivated people who suddenly think "today is going to be a great day, let's keep it up!"? It doesn't make you a hero, it doesn't make you look like Brad Pitt, it doesn't mean you play soccer like Spain does, but I think for plenty of people in every-day America, this is what you expect out of a leader.

Further, I might add that regardless of someone's position is on America's military participation, this is precisely the kind of America that the brave men and women in Iraq want to defend. You are fighting so that other people don't have to; you're not doing that so that they can sit at home and be lazy, you're doing it so that they can enact progress, build prosperity and generate happiness. What would home be like without people's ability, willingness, and desire to try and make a positive impact on each others' lives, when the everyday frustrations mean that these two guys were about to get in a fight outside a Starbucks drive-through? If you will, that is one of the simplest differences between a prosperous society and an embittered one; a society where people still believe that it's not every man for himself out there, where people choose to share not because the government has enforced redistribution, but because they think it will lead to good. I dare say that the idea of "pursuing self-interest leads to generalized betterment for all men and women" (basically the backbone of the capitalist ethos) is present here as well; he wanted to commit a deed for himself, not for the guy behind him. In broken societies, people no longer have the will nor the power to "make things right". You must've seen yourself how fragmented societies in Iraq and Afghanistan are.

I myself live in a society where solidarity does not exist, no one tries to lend a hand to anyone else, and scuffles are common and "f*ck you if you don't look like me" is the prevalent attitude. There's no lack of money, no lack of infrastructure, no lack of technology. But there's a strong lack of leadership in ordinary men and women participating in their business, social and residential communities. Just about every community on earth could do with one more man or woman who is willing to do something nice for a jerk, in the slight off-chance that the jerk could just maybe, maybe, be transformed.

Just my $0.02.
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Re: Storytelling 101 [#permalink] New post 08 Jul 2010, 07:31
osbornecox wrote:
wp06 wrote:
no disrespect to anyone but that guy is a great leader for buying a person coffee at starbucks?

what about Soldiers fighting everyday and their officers and sergeants who make life and death decisions on a daily basis. i guess the military version of leadership is on a different scale...i was suprised by the content of that article and the reaction.

i was expecting it to be a guy who did something amazing.


Hey, if you allow me to pitch in a few thoughts, I will...

The tone in the guy's story is slightly self-congratulatory, and absolutely, as you say, risking your life for your ideals and making quick decisions in a war zone is on an entirely different scale than this slightly-too-cute gratuitously "ethnicized" form of pay-it-forward.

But you know what? That's precisely the point.

This guy's actions had a ripple effect that made a whole lot of people end their day with a much happier note. And he did it without the might of the government's funding, the Pentagon's resources, or mountains of research and technology behind him, and even more importantly, he did it without thinking he wanted to be a leader. The best leaders just are, whether they want to be or not.

Leadership is often about what you can do in unfavorable circumstances, with inadequate information, and without external directives.

In business, you're often going to find that your division will almost never be given as much budget, time, resources, and flexibility as you would like. Someone above you doesn't care enough to tell you what they think you should do, hasn't given you enough money or time to do it, and the guys beneath you and horizontal to you are worried about their own mortgages, their daughter's dental bills, and their weight-gain. Can you turn-around angry, surly workers who are upset about their salaries into highly-motivated people who suddenly think "today is going to be a great day, let's keep it up!"? It doesn't make you a hero, it doesn't make you look like Brad Pitt, it doesn't mean you play soccer like Spain does, but I think for plenty of people in every-day America, this is what you expect out of a leader.

Further, I might add that regardless of someone's position is on America's military participation, this is precisely the kind of America that the brave men and women in Iraq want to defend. You are fighting so that other people don't have to; you're not doing that so that they can sit at home and be lazy, you're doing it so that they can enact progress, build prosperity and generate happiness. What would home be like without people's ability, willingness, and desire to try and make a positive impact on each others' lives, when the everyday frustrations mean that these two guys were about to get in a fight outside a Starbucks drive-through? If you will, that is one of the simplest differences between a prosperous society and an embittered one; a society where people still believe that it's not every man for himself out there, where people choose to share not because the government has enforced redistribution, but because they think it will lead to good. I dare say that the idea of "pursuing self-interest leads to generalized betterment for all men and women" (basically the backbone of the capitalist ethos) is present here as well; he wanted to commit a deed for himself, not for the guy behind him. In broken societies, people no longer have the will nor the power to "make things right". You must've seen yourself how fragmented societies in Iraq and Afghanistan are.

I myself live in a society where solidarity does not exist, no one tries to lend a hand to anyone else, and scuffles are common and "f*ck you if you don't look like me" is the prevalent attitude. There's no lack of money, no lack of infrastructure, no lack of technology. But there's a strong lack of leadership in ordinary men and women participating in their business, social and residential communities. Just about every community on earth could do with one more man or woman who is willing to do something nice for a jerk, in the slight off-chance that the jerk could just maybe, maybe, be transformed.

Just my $0.02.


My .02 is that it's bull. I heard about this at other Starbucks around my state prior to this guy writing the story. I think it's a marketing tool used by Starbucks.
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Re: Storytelling 101 [#permalink] New post 08 Jul 2010, 07:48
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lagomez wrote:
osbornecox wrote:
wp06 wrote:
no disrespect to anyone but that guy is a great leader for buying a person coffee at starbucks?

what about Soldiers fighting everyday and their officers and sergeants who make life and death decisions on a daily basis. i guess the military version of leadership is on a different scale...i was suprised by the content of that article and the reaction.

i was expecting it to be a guy who did something amazing.


Hey, if you allow me to pitch in a few thoughts, I will...

The tone in the guy's story is slightly self-congratulatory, and absolutely, as you say, risking your life for your ideals and making quick decisions in a war zone is on an entirely different scale than this slightly-too-cute gratuitously "ethnicized" form of pay-it-forward.

But you know what? That's precisely the point.

This guy's actions had a ripple effect that made a whole lot of people end their day with a much happier note. And he did it without the might of the government's funding, the Pentagon's resources, or mountains of research and technology behind him, and even more importantly, he did it without thinking he wanted to be a leader. The best leaders just are, whether they want to be or not.

Leadership is often about what you can do in unfavorable circumstances, with inadequate information, and without external directives.

In business, you're often going to find that your division will almost never be given as much budget, time, resources, and flexibility as you would like. Someone above you doesn't care enough to tell you what they think you should do, hasn't given you enough money or time to do it, and the guys beneath you and horizontal to you are worried about their own mortgages, their daughter's dental bills, and their weight-gain. Can you turn-around angry, surly workers who are upset about their salaries into highly-motivated people who suddenly think "today is going to be a great day, let's keep it up!"? It doesn't make you a hero, it doesn't make you look like Brad Pitt, it doesn't mean you play soccer like Spain does, but I think for plenty of people in every-day America, this is what you expect out of a leader.

Further, I might add that regardless of someone's position is on America's military participation, this is precisely the kind of America that the brave men and women in Iraq want to defend. You are fighting so that other people don't have to; you're not doing that so that they can sit at home and be lazy, you're doing it so that they can enact progress, build prosperity and generate happiness. What would home be like without people's ability, willingness, and desire to try and make a positive impact on each others' lives, when the everyday frustrations mean that these two guys were about to get in a fight outside a Starbucks drive-through? If you will, that is one of the simplest differences between a prosperous society and an embittered one; a society where people still believe that it's not every man for himself out there, where people choose to share not because the government has enforced redistribution, but because they think it will lead to good. I dare say that the idea of "pursuing self-interest leads to generalized betterment for all men and women" (basically the backbone of the capitalist ethos) is present here as well; he wanted to commit a deed for himself, not for the guy behind him. In broken societies, people no longer have the will nor the power to "make things right". You must've seen yourself how fragmented societies in Iraq and Afghanistan are.

I myself live in a society where solidarity does not exist, no one tries to lend a hand to anyone else, and scuffles are common and "f*ck you if you don't look like me" is the prevalent attitude. There's no lack of money, no lack of infrastructure, no lack of technology. But there's a strong lack of leadership in ordinary men and women participating in their business, social and residential communities. Just about every community on earth could do with one more man or woman who is willing to do something nice for a jerk, in the slight off-chance that the jerk could just maybe, maybe, be transformed.

Just my $0.02.


My .02 is that it's bull. I heard about this at other Starbucks around my state prior to this guy writing the story. I think it's a marketing tool used by Starbucks.


That'd be awesome.
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Re: Storytelling 101 [#permalink] New post 08 Jul 2010, 21:37
Real or fake, it's not leadership. Zen maybe. It certainly demonstrates a level of maturity and positivity that we should all strive for.

But it has nothing to do with leadership.
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Re: Storytelling 101 [#permalink] New post 09 Jul 2010, 06:06
osbornecox wrote:
wp06 wrote:
no disrespect to anyone but that guy is a great leader for buying a person coffee at starbucks?

what about Soldiers fighting everyday and their officers and sergeants who make life and death decisions on a daily basis. i guess the military version of leadership is on a different scale...i was suprised by the content of that article and the reaction.

i was expecting it to be a guy who did something amazing.


Hey, if you allow me to pitch in a few thoughts, I will...

The tone in the guy's story is slightly self-congratulatory, and absolutely, as you say, risking your life for your ideals and making quick decisions in a war zone is on an entirely different scale than this slightly-too-cute gratuitously "ethnicized" form of pay-it-forward.

But you know what? That's precisely the point.

This guy's actions had a ripple effect that made a whole lot of people end their day with a much happier note. And he did it without the might of the government's funding, the Pentagon's resources, or mountains of research and technology behind him, and even more importantly, he did it without thinking he wanted to be a leader. The best leaders just are, whether they want to be or not.

Leadership is often about what you can do in unfavorable circumstances, with inadequate information, and without external directives.

In business, you're often going to find that your division will almost never be given as much budget, time, resources, and flexibility as you would like. Someone above you doesn't care enough to tell you what they think you should do, hasn't given you enough money or time to do it, and the guys beneath you and horizontal to you are worried about their own mortgages, their daughter's dental bills, and their weight-gain. Can you turn-around angry, surly workers who are upset about their salaries into highly-motivated people who suddenly think "today is going to be a great day, let's keep it up!"? It doesn't make you a hero, it doesn't make you look like Brad Pitt, it doesn't mean you play soccer like Spain does, but I think for plenty of people in every-day America, this is what you expect out of a leader.

Further, I might add that regardless of someone's position is on America's military participation, this is precisely the kind of America that the brave men and women in Iraq want to defend. You are fighting so that other people don't have to; you're not doing that so that they can sit at home and be lazy, you're doing it so that they can enact progress, build prosperity and generate happiness. What would home be like without people's ability, willingness, and desire to try and make a positive impact on each others' lives, when the everyday frustrations mean that these two guys were about to get in a fight outside a Starbucks drive-through? If you will, that is one of the simplest differences between a prosperous society and an embittered one; a society where people still believe that it's not every man for himself out there, where people choose to share not because the government has enforced redistribution, but because they think it will lead to good. I dare say that the idea of "pursuing self-interest leads to generalized betterment for all men and women" (basically the backbone of the capitalist ethos) is present here as well; he wanted to commit a deed for himself, not for the guy behind him. In broken societies, people no longer have the will nor the power to "make things right". You must've seen yourself how fragmented societies in Iraq and Afghanistan are.

I myself live in a society where solidarity does not exist, no one tries to lend a hand to anyone else, and scuffles are common and "f*ck you if you don't look like me" is the prevalent attitude. There's no lack of money, no lack of infrastructure, no lack of technology. But there's a strong lack of leadership in ordinary men and women participating in their business, social and residential communities. Just about every community on earth could do with one more man or woman who is willing to do something nice for a jerk, in the slight off-chance that the jerk could just maybe, maybe, be transformed.

Just my $0.02.


I'm not sure Osbornecox needs to be reading pointers on Storytelling 101- s/he should teach the course!
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Re: Storytelling 101 [#permalink] New post 08 Sep 2010, 22:56
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Re: Storytelling 101 [#permalink] New post 14 Sep 2010, 17:35
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The tone in the guy's story is slightly self-congratulatory, and absolutely, as you say, risking your life for your ideals and making quick decisions in a war zone is on an entirely different scale than this slightly-too-cute gratuitously "ethnicized" form of pay-it-forward.

But you know what? That's precisely the point.

This guy's actions had a ripple effect that made a whole lot of people end their day with a much happier note. And he did it without the might of the government's funding, the Pentagon's resources, or mountains of research and technology behind him, and even more importantly, he did it without thinking he wanted to be a leader. The best leaders just are, whether they want to be or not.

Leadership is often about what you can do in unfavorable circumstances, with inadequate information, and without external directives.

In business, you're often going to find that your division will almost never be given as much budget, time, resources, and flexibility as you would like. Someone above you doesn't care enough to tell you what they think you should do, hasn't given you enough money or time to do it, and the guys beneath you and horizontal to you are worried about their own mortgages, their daughter's dental bills, and their weight-gain. Can you turn-around angry, surly workers who are upset about their salaries into highly-motivated people who suddenly think "today is going to be a great day, let's keep it up!"? It doesn't make you a hero, it doesn't make you look like Brad Pitt, it doesn't mean you play soccer like Spain does, but I think for plenty of people in every-day America, this is what you expect out of a leader.


Obsborncox --- where did you get this entire diatribe out of what I stated.
Look, I think you have a serious lack of understanding about what you are talking about. A whole lot of military leadership is very similar to what you described about employees worrying about their bills, their children's lives, or other interests. I am not stating that that is not important leadership and never did. That is a huge part of Army leadership when you are back in the states and training and you try to make the most common sense calls on training so employees i.e. enlisted Soldiers/subordinates/whatever you want to call it get to see their daughters recital or soccer game or their sons first baseball game or whatever.

I have no idea where you get this concept that I live off on some other planet and you continuously make these comments against me like I am clueless and totally out of touch with reality.

Furthermore, when you get down to the user level, such as Platoons actually deployed and fighting overseas we do not have the crazy pentagon budget and research and everything else. It comes down to men trying to kill each other with weapon systems in remote areas. It comes down to us struggling for a few thousand dollars here and there to finance a school project, a new water plant, or a generator for a local council building. The Pentagon budget has no impact on leadership of guys actually out there in the middle of nowhere. Alot of that foes into research and development, aircraft, huge vehicles, maintenance, logistics etc. Don't throw some cliche op-ed opinions around and act like you know everything.

Leadership for me in that role is pushing my men through the loss of a buddy or patting someone on the back or putting my arm around thrm when they cry after a powerful memorial ceremony with a rifle stuck in the ground with two boots that used to be filled by your friend.

I have no doubt that this guy's act was a very good thing to do, but it was not what I expected that is all I stated. I have no idea why you felt it necessary to pick apart my one line comment with some huge analysis liek I am an idiot. I know what leadership is and that it occurs in different environments and there are different levels for different situations.

Somtimes people just need a pick me up, sometimes they just need a pat on a the back, sometimes they need someone to push them through a terrible attack or event in their life, sometimes they need someone who leads from the front / by example

Please spare me the lectures and agree to disagree, you are not some random genius and I am not clueless, we are both somewhere in the middle.
Re: Storytelling 101   [#permalink] 14 Sep 2010, 17:35
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